A pensioner died ‘of shock’ after burglars raided the home where she had lived her whole life and robbed her of her only valuable possessions.
Maureen Whale, 77, had lived in her detached house in Barnet, north London since her birth in 1940, surviving the Blitz and working her way through a series of respectable jobs.
She was a childless spinster and had lived in the house with her mother Phyllis, who is believed to have died in 1993.
Mrs Whale was enjoying her retirement in the little cottage – described as ‘her world’ – after holding down positions as a nurse, medical secretary and librarian and ‘living out her dream’ to become an air hostess, friends have said.
But the peace of Mrs Whale’s life was shattered at around 6pm on Tuesday – just a week before she was due to celebrate her 78th birthday – when two young yobs broke into her home and helped themselves to anything they could find.
Stunned Mrs Whale, who is thought to have been confronted by the theives, collapsed as she called 999, and tragically died the following day.
Her only living relatives are a nephew and niece who live in Hertfordshire. They are the children of her brother Roy, who is also dead.
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Maureen Whale, 77, collapsed and died after thieves broke into her house on Tuesday. Police have released images of some of the jewellery stolen during a series of raids that night
These rings were also stolen during the raid on Tuesday evening. The ring pictured on the left is a near-match of Meghan Markle’s engagement ring
This Tiffany necklace was also taken. Police are asking local pawnbrokers to be on the look out
It is thought the break-in which led to her death was one of at least three carried out in the space of just few hours by the gang, who are now being hunted by police.
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The burglars – both believed to be in their 20s – wore baseball caps, beanies and hoods when they entered Miss Whale’s home and stole her jewellery, including a Pandora ring, a Tiffany necklace and a bracelet.
Police said one of the rings taken was a ‘unique’ piece, but her ‘really old’ TV was of no interest to the thieves.
The group are thought to have raided other homes in the area on Tuesday afternoon, before climbing a fence and entering Miss Whale’s home.
During the other break-ins, the gang also made off with 900 US dollars and £30 in Turkish lira, thought to be from previous holidays.
Detective Chief Inspector Noel McHugh said: ‘Maureen was well before they broke into the house, but if they hadn’t broken in we imagine she would still be here now.
‘If two people suddenly appeared how would you feel, her death is the consequence of the burglary.
‘There was no visible injuries, we don’t want to frighten everybody, we are awaiting a post-mortem… it might be the shock of it killed her.
‘Maureen died as a consequence of the burglary – she lived in a small cottage on her own with a really old TV, it is quite sad really.
‘She had family, a niece and nephew – and it’s been the family home since 1928, she has been there since 1940 and she has lived there all of her life.
‘Maureen was very much part of the community she was an independent lady, she would venture out to St Albans.’
Mrs Whale collapsed while on a 999 call after a gang of three thugs forced their way into her £400,000 detached house, where she had lived her whole life
Stolen ring is near-perfect match of Meghan Markle’s engagement band
One of the items of jewellery stolen in the north London break-in was described as a ‘Meghan Markle’ ring by the detective leading the case today.
When the Duchess of Sussex announced she was marrying Prince Harry, she showed off an engagement band which featured a large diamond from Botswana between two smaller diamonds.
A gold ring stolen during the Barnet raids is a near-perfect match of the now-famous ring.
Meghan Markle’s engagement ring
Footage from neighbours showed three men breaking into the flats opposite the detached property before standing in the road.
Neighbours believe she was targeted by the gang because she was ‘frail’ and ‘vulnerable’.
One local resident, who asked not to be named, said: ‘I practically knew Maureen from birth.
‘I used to walk her to Underhill primary school – she was a year younger than me.
‘Her parents were very proud of her and they adored her and her brother Roy but they were overprotective of Maureen and her dad was very strict.
‘Our mums became friends during the war and they used to swap ration cards.
‘My mum didn’t eat meat so she might’ve swapped that ration with Maureen’s mum for some butter or they’d trade sugar for sweet coupons which were like gold dust.
‘Her father worked for the gas board and I used to see him pushing his bike to work in his overalls and he must’ve had a good position as her mum never had to work.
‘We would play at the park or at each other’s houses all the time while our mothers met up for tea and later we used to go to Odeon picture house together for Saturday’s morning screening.
‘I remember Maureen was always late for school and we’d have to sit outside morning assembly so I said to her ‘you mustn’t be late or I can’t call for you anymore.’
The Luftwaffe dropped more than 650 bombs on Barnet between October 1940 and June 1941, when Mrs Whale was living in the house, which was not hit.
Police forensics officers were seen working at the property yesterday afternoon
Police have searched the area for evidence. Patrols are being stepped up amid concerns
A shocked neighbour left these white roses on Mrs Whale’s doorstep today
Mrs Whale had lived in Barnet since she was born in 1940. Pictured: Its High Street that year
Barnet was heavily bombed during the war, but the house where Mrs Whale lived survived
The three wanted men
Suspect One: Was wearing a black zip through gillet over a light coloured long sleeved top. He also wore a dark coloured woollen hat/beanie.
Suspect Two: Entered the house in a long sleeved top with dark patches. He wore a hood up [possibly fur trim on hood] with dark trousers and light coloured trainers.
Suspect Three: Acted as a look out at the window. He was dressed in a long sleeved, dark coloured hooded top/jacket. He wore a baseball cap underneath the hood of his jacket, light coloured jogging bottoms and dark trainers.
Prayers will be held for Maureen at her local church on Sunday morning.
Rev Eugene Hanshaw, of St Stephen’s Church, which is on the street where Miss Whale lived, said: ‘This is a very unusual incident in this area and a very sad one.
‘We will pray for her and the police and also remember her family’ he said.
A former sweetheart from her school days said: ‘Me and Maureen go way back – we actually used to date in secondary school.
‘She was very shy and private, even back then, but we’d meet up at the farm with a girl she used to go around with back in the day.
‘I never really saw her in Barnet more recently, apart from when she’d be walking to the supermarket with her shopping trolley.’
A study by crime researchers Victim Support stated how 58 per cent of burglaries in 2016 to 17 occurred with a homeowner present.
Discussing the break-in today, the Met’s DCI McHugh refused to comment on the spike.
He also did not link the burglary with the raids on the late Peter Gouldstone, 98, who died after being beaten at his home five miles from Miss Whale’s home.
Police are hoping the drivers of cars which drover down the road may have seen the gang
CCTV from a neighbour’s house shows the burglars (one dressed in a light top and dark beenie hat) entering the pensioner’s home
The detective added: ‘A search of the house is going on at the moment – these people had targeted at least four properties – why they burgled Maureen’s house is yet to be confirmed.
‘The suspects selected at least four houses, they were a range of ages – we get the feeling they are local.’
DCI McHugh continued: ‘There were two flats above each other and they went over to Maureen’s, we are confident it’s the same group.’
‘We will be looking at forensics examinations across different scenes, but we are not linking them as part of this investigation.
‘We want to understand this incident in the context of other burglaries and what they might do in the future.’
Police have stepped up patrols in the area as detectives hunting the three white men in their 20s who were dressed in hats and tracksuits.
Investigators think the gang could have jumped into a Skoda Fabia car before escaping.
There were 366 burglaries in the London borough of Barnet in October this year, up by 115 on the previous month and the highest number in a month since November last year, when 397 were recorded.
More than half of domestic burglaries now take place while residents are at home, figures show
Shocking new figures revealed half of burglaries in Britain take place while householders are inside their properties.
Brazen criminals seem to be emboldened by police cuts and failures to act, as figures show 58 per cent of burglaries happened at occupied properties.
Campaigners have claimed criminals do not fear being caught by authorities and are calling for harsher penalties to deter criminals.
WWII veteran Peter Gouldstone, 98, was beaten by raiders who stole his 26-inch Panasonic television set
Analysis of recent Office for National Statistics crime figures showed the proportion of burglaries targeting homes when someone was in has soared.
In 2004-05, the figure was 44 per cent, but that has now risen to 58 per cent.
Barbara Oakley, an operations manager at Victim Support, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘There is a lot of spot burglaries now where they just go along and try the handles.
‘The [door handles] don’t even necessarily get fingerprinted or anything like that because police just don’t have the resources to do it.’